He was seen as an art collector, an inventor, a wall street insider, a writer, and a dog lover. He was none of those. But he was a murderer, and decades after his killings, justice caught up to him. Although it sounds like a mystery novel or a movie script, the story of Blood Will Out, by Walter Kirn, is true.
Kirn himself was caught up in the web of lies woven by Christian Gerhartsreiter, a German, who Kirn knew as Clark Rockefeller, a distant member of the celebrated family. Kirn, a novelist living in Montana in 1998, agreed to help some friends by driving an injured dog to New York to deliver him to Rockefeller, a new owner who had promised to rehabilitate the animal. The trip became the beginning of a long and mutually self-serving relationship between the fraudulent Clark and the writer Walter.
Kirn, who wrote the novel Up in the Air, is forthright in describing his slow recognition that Clark was more than just odd, and in admitting that he contributed to Clark's successful charades by being too willing to believe and too unwilling to question Clark about his multiple lives. Only years later did Kirn realize that Clark was actually sinister. Ultimately, Clark was arrested and convicted of murdering a man in 1985. The man's wife, who disappeared at the same time and was never found, is thought to also have been killed by Clark.
Blood Will Out is a character study not only of the killer but also of Walter Kirn, who reveals himself to be a flawed human with conflicting motives and less than clear judgment. Clark, a secretive, chameleon of a man, spun multiple skeins of his life, masking the truth by claiming that he was protecting his privacy. Kirn, passing it off as the eccentricities of a wealthy outcast, allowed himself to accept Clark's stories, thinking that he might be material for a later novel. And, as odd as Clark's life seemed, Kirn's life was no model of stability. In his thirties, he married the teenage daughter of Margot Kidder, the actress whose mental breakdown made national news. Later divorced and a financially struggling father, he relied on drugs while trying to write and maintain a series of romantic relationships. Clark and Walter were a symbiotic pair.
Readers who enjoy true crime stories and those who favor analyses of dysfunctional lives will find much to savor in Blood Will Out.